The Oscars are still considered to be the highest honor for movies. The 92nd Oscar ceremony took place in 2020 and to date only a few dozen Black people have taken home the top prize out of the thousands of awards doled out in nearly a century. Those winners include not only actors but costume designers, musical artists, animators, screenwriters, etc.
For the purposes of this list, we’ll stick to acting and note that there have surely been more Black actors (male and female) worthy of that Academy Award. The BET Awards have always been clutch for Black thespians to receive their due respect.
As we get closer to the 2020 BET Awards (8 pm EST on June 28th) and all the flowers we shall give to the living while they can smell them, we look back on past acting nods. Unlike other shows, a single BET Awards nomination can be for multiple projects.
Join us on a walk through the past male and female best actor categories at the BET Awards and what they have been up to since then.
Sanaa Lathan won the very first Best Actress Award at the inaugural BET Awards in 2001 for her performance in the iconic Black romance film Love and Basketball. This was her first and only win at this show, but an important one nonetheless. Since her win, she has been nominated for a Tony for her stage work in A Raisin in the Sunand has been in numerous popular film and television productions such as Something New and The Affair. Sanna has earned a few awards, including a couple NAACP Image Award wins.
Mr. Denzel Washington has won the Best Actor prize at the BET Awards three times. He won for Remember the Titans, Out of Time, and in 2008 for American Gangsterand The Great Debaters. The man has range. By the time of his first BET Awards win, he had already won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1990. Since then, he snagged the Best Actor Oscar for Training Day and his son John David Washington has made a name for himself as an actor on the HBO show Ballers and The BlacKkKlansmen, amongst other projects. Spike Lee has done major work with both father and son.
Halle Berry won her first BET Award and first Oscar in 2002 for Monster’s Ball. She is so far, the only Black woman to win the Oscar for Best Actress. Her 2004 and 2008 wins were for X2 and Perfect Stranger. Since 2008 win, Halle has done a bevy of films (including sci-fi such as Cloud Atlas) and she even starred in the television series Extant. In 2019 she co-starred alongside Keaunu Reeves in John Wick: Chapter 3 Parabellum. Additionally, Halle has continued to be one of the most desired women on the planet since she came on the scene in the late 1980s.
Will Smith snagged his two BET acting nods for Ali (Oscar-nominated for that one), Hancock and Seven Pounds. For the past 11 years, Will has done another Men in Black film, another Bad Boys movie, and two dozen other projects. He even showed that he still has rapping skills when he hopped on the remix of the Joyner Lucas track “Will.” His verse was very well received in the hip hop community. Not bad for a guy who won his first Grammy in 1989.
Queen Latifah won her BET acting award in 2003 for Chicago. She was also nominated for an Oscar that year. Like Will Smith, she one of the people who went from a Grammy-winning rap career to an Oscar-nominated acting career. Ms. Dana Owens has been keeping busy for the past 17 years. In addition to doing voice-overs for popular video games and animated movies, she has also starred in numerous television and film projects. She won an Emmy for her starring role in HBO’s Bessie, a film about legendary blues singer Bessie Smith. The Queen has also flexed her production skills and she is helping out in her community by developing affordable housing in her hometown.
Antwone Fisher is the film that earned Derek Luke his BET Award. That was also his very first movie role. Derek has signed on to a wide variety of projects, from music videos to films (Remember him as Diddy in Notorious?) to television. For three seasons, he starred on the critically acclaimed Netflix series 13 Reasons Why.
We’ve known Regina King since she was a child actor on the 1980s sitcom 227, but she got her first BET acting award in 2005 for Miss Congeniality 2 and then again in 2019 for If Beale Street Could Talk. Regina won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for the latter and she scooped up several Emmys for her roles on Seven Seconds and American Crime. She wowed everyone last year with the critically-acclaimed series Watchmen. Regina has directed episodes of Insecure, Greenleaf, and This is Us. More and more actors are seeing the power of being behind the camera.
Jamie Foxx took home two BET acting awards for his work on Ray, Collateral, Breakin’ All the Rules, and Django Unchained. He earned an Oscar for Ray and in 2010, he won a Grammy for his song “Blame It.” In 2018, Jamie hosted the BET Awards. He’s done a slew of action and comedy films, but also nailed a role in Just Mercy, a drama co-starring Michael B. Jordan.
With six BET acting wins, Taraji P. Henson holds the record in that category for both men and women. (Denzel Washington has the most for the fellas with three.) The Howard alum’s first win was for Hustle and Flow and most of the others were for her work as Cookie Lyon on Empire. Taraji’s starring role in Hidden Figures was also duly acknowledged and honored. She remains one of Tyler Perry’s favorites muses and she has racked up a number of producer credits over the past several years.
Both of Terrence Howard’s BET acting awards are for projects he did with Taraji P. Henson (among other film and television series). Hustle and Flow and Empire have been good to the two thespians. Terrence’s wins are also for Crash, Four Brothers, Lackawanna Blues, and more. He has appeared in an eclectic mix of tv shows such as Wayward Pines and Hada Madrina.
“Dreamgirl” Jennifer Hudson has been busy since her 2007 win. She won an Oscar, appeared in films such as Sex and the City and The Secret Life of Bees, and she has won two Grammys in the R&B category.
Like a handful of the honorees on this list, Forest Whittaker won a BET acting award and an Oscar in the same year. He took home the prizes for his role in the Last King of Scotland. Forest won a Golden Globe as well. He has since co-starred on Empire and even tried his hand on Broadway in the play Hughie.
Mo’Nique is yet another BET Award/Oscar winner for Precious. The actress and comedian has hosted the BET Awards several times, had her own late-night show for a spell, and had a comedy special on Showtime earlier in 2020.
Always a favorite with the ladies since his turn as Stringer Bell on The Wire, Idris Elba won two BET Awards for The Losers, Takers, and the British series Luther. From Cats to the Fast & Furious franchise, Idris has kept himself busy.
In 2012, Viola Davis won a BET award for her roles in The Help and Extremely Loudand Incredibly Close. Viewers went on to get to know her best Annalise Keating on How to Get Away With Murder. Ms. Viola won an Oscar in 2017 for Fences.
Kevin Hart beat out Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Idris Elba, and Common in 2012 for the Best Male Actor BET Award. It was for Kevin Hart: Laugh at My Pain. The comedian has laughed all the way to the bank for years with a string of soldout stadiums for his stand-up tour and a slew of blockbuster movies.
Kerry Washington won her acting award for Django Unchained and Scandal. She has since starred as Anita Hill in Confirmation and her role on Little Fires Everywhere will likely garner more honors and awards.
Lupita Nyong’o repeated the tradition of winning a BET Award and Oscar in the same year. Her film debut in 12 Years a Slave was well received by critics and audiences. She has gone on to roles in films like Queen of Katwe and th global sensation Black Panther.
Oscar-nominated actor Chiwetel Ejiofor also won his BET award for 12 Years a Slave. He signed on to a number of interesting projects like Doctor Strange and The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.
Michael Bae Jordan won his BET Awards for Creed, Creed II, and Fantastic Four. His turn as Killmonger in Black Panther provided a few memes and he has shown range beyond action films with projects like Just Mercy. Where’s Wallace? He’s doing just fine.
Mahershala’s acting range is evident in just the projects the won him the 2017 BET acting award. He won for Moonlight, Luke Cage, Hidden Figures, Free State of Jones, and Kicks. He has two Oscars (Moonlight and Greenbook) and his nuanced role on True Detectives was critically acclaimed.
It can be difficult to stand out in an ensemble film, especially with co-stars like Queen Latifah, Regina Hall, and Jada Pinkett Smith, but Tiffany Haddish managed to do just that and win her first BET acting award in 2018 for Girls Trip. She has been all over film and television in projects like The Last O.G. and the movie Night School.
Chadwick Boseman won for two very different movies: Black Panther and Marshall. Though an argument could be made that both films are about superheroes. Two Avengers movies later, and a Black Panther sequel in the works, Chadwick has not been wanting for work.
(Photo: Getty Images)